Let Healing Swiftly Come: Part 1
Episode 21 – January 27, 2019
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Drew Pierce – “Ice Ice Baby
Buddy Greene – “My Soul Cries Out (Canticle of the Turning)”
Reading No. 1
Luke 4:14-21 Jesus proclaims his purpose
Read by Rev. Miriam Bowlby, of Cochrane Street United Church at Cape Spear in St. John’s Newfoundland
Reading No. 2
“Let Healing Swiftly Come” (Isaiah 58:6-8) by Bri-anne Swan and offered by the Metropolitan United Church choir in Toronto
So, if you are somebody who has been listening to this podcast for a while, you’ve probably figured out by now that I really like my kids…and I really like talking about my kids. Especially when they were babies. And so, with this in mind, I have one more story to add to the collection The day after my husband and I found out we were expecting a child, we decided to go out for dinner to celebrate. Before our appetizers even arrived, I told Jason that we needed to discuss names. I explained that ever since I was in high school if ever I imagined being a mom and having a baby, the child was always a boy and his name was always Isaiah. So, obviously, if this child turned out the be a boy, his name would have to be Isaiah.
Jason was quiet for a second. Then he said he’d always pictured himself having a daughter and if the baby was a girl he wanted to call her Mary, for his grandmother.
I said, “I’m fine with Mary.”
He said, “I’m fine with Isaiah.”
And that was it. I was a bit shocked, to tell you the truth, because I had friends who practically began divorce proceedings because they couldn’t agree on a name. We had it figured out before the salad arrived.
So why do I bring this up? Well, stay with me… I promise it will make sense soon.
Because first, I wanna talk a little bit about this passage, because the lectionary has done something really weird this week. Last week, we heard about a wedding, and Jesus saving the day, turning water into wine with perhaps the most memed Jesus miracle in popular culture. Today, we get to hear about Jesus returning home, filled with the Holy Spirit. But wait – I thought he was already home! Where is he returning from? And how the heck as he come to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
We’re gonna hear more about this on the first week of Lent, but today, for context, here’s some background:
Jesus has returned from 40 days of fasting in the Judean desert. He’s encountered and been tempted by, the Devil. First, the Devil tell Jesus to turn stones to bread. Then he suggests Jesus fall from a great height and rely upon God to save him. Then he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus refuses all three. That is where he’s coming from as he returns to Nazareth, eventually heading to the Synagogue on the Sabbath.
And the passage Jesus stands to read, as Luke describes it, is actually an amalgam of two passages from the book of Isaiah, part of the Hebrew Scriptures.
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
These passages…they are near and dear to me. They are the reason I was so clear I wanted to name my son for the attributed author of these words. In fact, this section from Isaiah 58 is hanging on the wall of Isaiah’s room. It’s comforting and affirming to see that they were important to Jesus too. Actually, not only important…in Luke, they’re kind of his mission statement.
I grew up with a very particular kind of Christology… a particular way of understanding the nature of Jesus as well as how and why he met his earthly end, shattered and broken, nailed to a cross. This understanding went something like this: People are inherently horrible, evil, sinful creatures. That includes me. It includes you too. So, God sent this guy, His son (“His son” because God was always “he” when I was a kid) to die an extraordinarily violent and shameful death to atone for all the bad things I had done and would do throughout my lifetime. That was his purpose. Anything and everything he did and said culminated and was fulfilled in his death, and then his resurrection. The sin of those who believed in him (and that’s pretty key – I needed to buy into the contract) died with Jesus – that we were saved and made new through an empty tomb on Easter morning. That we are saved from an eternity of suffering through Grace.
Does this sound familiar to you? There are certainly other scripture passages used to support this idea. I don’t mean to sound glib or to sound condescending. I do believe there is a place and a need for Grace….that Grace exists and is not something we can ever earn. I am a companion and friend to a few men on Death Row in Texas. For those inmates who identify as Christian, this is the version of Jesus’ purpose that they identify with. It brings them hope and comfort. You can see the appeal, right? It means that no matter what they did and who they hurt, so long as they repent, believe in Jesus and his ability to save, they are going to go to heaven – which really seems to be the end goal. It means that there is something to look forward to. It means that when they meet their death they can do so without fear because it’s gonna be all high fives, beer and Jesus on the other side. It’s comforting for those who have literally nothing else to live for.
But for me, it was terrifying. I remember lying awake at night wondering if I was believing hard enough, if I was saved enough. It wasn’t that I grew up in a particularly extreme congregation. It was a United Church of a certain time and place, and I just happened to be a uniquely anxious, type A+ kind of child. But if Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to die for my sins so that I wouldn’t end up in a fiery hell for all eternity, dammit, I was gonna do my best to make sure it wasn’t for nothing.
But that is not what Jesus is saying in this story at all. Jesus wasn’t reading about state-sanctioned execution to those listening in the synagogue. He was not predicting his death. He was speaking about oppression and liberation, poverty and justice. According to Luke, this is the purpose for which God took on an imperfect human body and walked among us. With this act, the promises of Isaiah had been fulfilled. Jesus may as well have ended today’s reading with “buckle up folks…things are about to get interesting!” We’ll get a glimpse into just how interesting next week with the end of this story and…spoiler alert…it’s not all pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.
So what does this mean…for us? If Jesus came to “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” what does that mean for us? I mean, do we really want to release all the inmates currently incarcerated in our prisons. I’d say…hmm…probably not. I mean, I think some of those prisoners should be released. The United States has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the worlds incarcerated people. But I’m not super comfortable with all the people currently in prison being released to start living next to me. Like I said, I know and love people who sit on Death Row…who have committed really terrible crimes. I may think it’s a grave injustice to kill them, but I’m not prepared to have them walking around on the street. And you know what…most of them would agree that’s not a super smart idea either.
I wonder what that would have felt like. I wonder what it would have felt like to hear somebody claim to be fulfilling this purpose within the world. Jesus is speaking to a profoundly oppressed people. A people who had been oppressed for a very long time. I know I’ve said this before but I think it’s always worth reminding ourselves the circumstances under which these sacred texts are written. Because right now, in North America, Christians are not the oppressed group. Certainly, there are Christians who are oppressed, but not collectively as a people of faith. Not in the way Jesus’ people were at the hands of the Romans.
And if ever there was a passage affirming Jesus’ Jewishness and Jewish identity, this is it. Scripture, Synagogue, Sabbath…all three are are honoured here. The words Jesus chooses to read bear remarkable resemblance to the words of his mother in her Magnificat, which in turn are an interpretation of Hannah’s words in Samuel 1, a song of praise to Yahweh, reflecting on the reversal of power starting with the local, and ending with the cosmic. Walter Brueggemann suggests that the Song of Hannah discusses the power and willingness of Yahweh to intrude, intervene and invert the structures or power. Jesus would have grown up knowing these words. Jesus may have been a carpenter’s son, but I suspect he learned much what he taught and spoke about…from his mother.
And that piece that Jesus was reading from Isaiah? It goes on!
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall swiftly come;
Once again, we are reminded that our destinies are not able to be separated from those of our neighbour. Our healing is tied to the wellness of the world. Let healing swiftly come…
So then, again…what does this mean…for us? I may not be a child, but I’m still perfectly capable of lying awake in a puddle of anxiety, wondering what to do about all the various issues I hear swirling around the world. What can I do about polar bears dying the arctic? What can I do about a pipeline in British Columbia? What can I do about a sewage plant threatening the Lake Simcoe watershed? What can I do about factory workers splitting their hands and making pennies an hour to produce the cloth I’m wearing? What can I do about police carding? About people having no other option but to live in their cars along the local river? About teen girls being groomed for trafficking in the city malll? The list…it goes on and on and on. I speak on what I can. I do what I can. But still, I lie awake…and I worry…and I wonder about what more there is for me to do. I’m just like that.
So, I think the first part it to notice. Notice the inequity happening around us. Then, I think a second part is to care. And a third is to look at how I am contributing to the problem…exploring if I benefit and how I benefit from the maintenance of the status quo? But then that can start moving into that overwhelming territory again. It feels overwhelming because I’ve taken it on as a solitary endeavor. The responsibility feels crushing.
But in reflecting on this very old story about Jesus returning home, to his people, to his place, speaking to those who knew him, my take away from Jesus proclaiming his purpose is that although we are called to clothe the naked and feed the hungry…we are not alone. We are not alone in this endeavor. This is where remembering that there is grace, and there is something larger than ourselves to rely on, to give us hope and something worth living for…to guide and shape us. In this understanding, grace is the complete working of God. It is not a created substance, that can be treated as a commodity. It is the complete working of God’s justice, which rarely looks like the world’s justice.
In a few minutes we’ll hear a song by Rory Cooney, with these words:
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a
stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your
justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne. The
hungry poor shall weep no more, for the
food they can never earn; There are tables spread, ev’ry
mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
If there was a Caleigh going on at the synagogue, this might be Jesus’ pick for the jam. The world may be about to turn, but it is turning with God’s favour and God’s insistence.
So, for those sleepless nights that perhaps we share, I offer just as much to me as to you, a reminder…
…that we are not alone. We are called to notice. We are called to share. We are called to change. We are not let to do it all alone.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God.